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Meal Replacement Shakes Myth | Not Real Food?

One of the most common accusations against meal replacement shakes is that they are not real food. But what counts as real food and what is artificial? In this article we will be looking at what meal replacement shakes are, what the definition of real food is, and how to successfully integrate meal replacement shakes into your diet.

What are Meal Replacement Shakes?

A meal replacement shake is a (usually) powdered product that provides you with a calorie controlled serving of fats, protein, and carbohydrates. The powder is mixed with water (or milk) and is designed to replace a regular meal such as breakfast or lunch (rarely dinner). 

It is easy to understand why people don’t think of meal replacement shakes as real food, it’s a powder that you add water to. However, the powder is made from real food. Meal replacement shake powders can be made from rice, oats, peas, seeds, and other foods.

Why Take Meal Replacement Shakes?

Meal replacement shakes have three main uses. They can be used for weight loss, which is their most common use. But they can also be used for weight maintenance, which is why meal replacement shake diets are often more successful than traditional diets, as you can use them to transition from a weight loss diet to regular eating without gaining weight.

The final use for them is for weight gain. At the end of the day, a meal replacement shake is a more balanced version of a protein shake, making it great for bodybuilders who want to bulk up without gaining excess body fat. 

Calorie counting is very effective for weight management, weight loss and weight gain but it can be very hard to do. It requires a lot of time spent on calorie counting apps and is often seen as more trouble than it is worth. With a meal replacement shake you know all of the calories and the macros immediately, it can also save you a lot of time, something that most diets cannot do. 

Are Meal Replacement Shakes Real Food?

The debate around meal replacement shakes reminds us of the old argument about whether soup is a food or not. Most people would say that soup is a food as it is made from vegetables, stock, and sometimes meat. But some soups are almost pure liquid. Flour is classed as a food, but it is basically powder. Obviously, you wouldn’t class it as a meal on its own, but it can be used to make bread which is a food.

Meal replacement shakes are made from real food ingredients and then turned into a powder. The powder is then turned into a shake, but many can also be mixed with yoghurt or milk to create a more substantial consistency. 

Technically meal replacement shakes can be classed as food, but we can all agree that this term is pretty subjective. What people mean though is that it isn’t a proper home cooked meal. Which is indisputable. But so what?

The clue is in the name, it is a replacement for a meal. You’re not supposed to give up food forever when on a meal replacement shake. The idea is either to swap your three meals for an MRS for a short period of time, or to just replace one or two meals per day with an MRS while eating healthily outside of that. 

How to Integrate Meal Replacement Shakes into Your Diet

As we mentioned in the last section, there are a couple of strategies, but this mostly depends on what your goals are. If you are looking to gain weight, then adding an MRS as an extra meal (or two) per day is the smartest move. So, your day would look like this:

  • Breakfast
  • Mid-Morning: MRS
  • Lunch
  • Mid-Afternoon: MRS
  • Dinner
  • Pre-Bed snack (MRS?)

What’s great about this is you save a lot of time and money as you don’t have to prep an additional 2-3 meals each day.

If you are looking for weight loss, then the traditional method is to replace your breakfast and lunches with meal replacement shakes, then have a healthy well-balanced evening meal with lots of vegetables and protein. After 6 weeks you may then drop to 1x MRS and two main meals. 

For weight maintenance, the point is to replace one of the most difficult meals with a meal replacement shake. For example, every morning you find that you have no time to prepare a good breakfast so you end up getting a pastry near the station instead. Or you skip the meal entirely then end up snacking throughout the morning. You would then decide to have an MRS at breakfast each day as a form of control over your diet. 

Final Thoughts

Meal replacement shakes are not for everyone, in fact there are certain people that meal replacement shakes will have a negative impact upon. But they are much better for you than many people would have you believe and have been embraced by the NHS as an effective way to treat obesity. Whether you class them as real food or not is up to you, but whatever the answer it doesn’t really matter.